Saturday, 8 April 2017

Two Basques Called Antxon

Winter came and went.
I went, too. I went deep into a translating "El Gran Caminante," a seminal Camino memoir by Antxon 'Bolitx' Gabarain, into English. It took a lot longer than I anticipated. Yesterday, five months after I started, "A Walk to the End of the World" was finally polished, and sent off to the production guys.
I've been a professional writer for years and years, and an editor for a lot of that time. Translating is something else altogether. It's like poetry, in that it demands a ton of technical skill and a degree of integrity I don't normally have to draw on. It's scary, because I like to do a really good job. My Spanish skills are mediocre, but I'm a whiz at English. I've studied and studied, but I am still not sure I know what I'm doing. There are some mistakes in there, no doubt. I hope they're not too embarrassing.
During this epic I made friends with two Basques named Antxon.
Antxon Gonzalez is the man who asked me to translate this book. He's a big guy, a retired executive, speaks a little English. He drove all the way down here from the coast, armed with homemade txakoli wine and a box of shortbread and a pretty good publishing deal.
I was feeling fed-up and depressed with my own book. I needed a wintertime project. I had a glancing acquaintance with "El Gran Caminante," which came out a couple of years ago on the Spanish market and did quite well, especially for a book without a standard distribution deal.
I told Antxon I'm not a translator. He told me I should try. I was the only person who could.
So I did.
The other Basque named Antxon is also known as 'Bolitx.' (No one can tell me what "Bolitx" means.) This Antxon wrote the book. It's a first-person narrative of his 2008 Camino pilgrimage, starting at his front door in Zumaia, in the Basque Country, passing down a disused pilgrim trail and joining "the Mighty Camino Frances" in Santo Domingo de la Calzada. It continues on to Santiago and Finisterre, and along the way he tells about growing up in Navarre and Bizkaia, family legends, ghost trains, his grandfather's adventure as a 19th century immigrant to California. Cool stuff I've never seen anywhere else.  
I have seen a slew of amateur pilgrim memoirs, and they are, with a couple of exceptions, pretty dreary reading. Antxon's is the first one I've read in Spanish. Yes, it is self-indulgent and yes, he does go on about his blisters and his spectacularly authentic pilgrimage. He has issues with women, and Asians, and foreign food. But he has a remarkable knack for description, especially in the bars, restaurants, and albergues along the Way. He does dialog well, he sets a scene and lets the players tell the tale. He's a natural writer, a sharp observer, unschooled but fluid and cogent.
He tells you what it all means, in a way that's not preachy.
Antxon the author
And he's funny. Even after reading the same passages five or six times in two languages, he still makes me laugh out loud. I got to know him pretty well this Winter. He looked over my shoulder sometimes, worried that I get it right. Or at least his spirit did.
Antxon the author finished writing "El Gran Caminante" in 2012, three days before he died of ALS. He was 41 years old.
Anxton the publisher is his father.
The translation will be available soon via Amazon or other online retailers. Most of the proceeds go to educate his young daughters.
So now I am a translator. I did my best. I had to call on expert help when flummoxed:  two old guys in Boadilla talking trash about the town floozy were beyond my powers of comprehension. Good thing I count a renowned Hispanicist among my friends. Antxon's granny was "the best Mus player in Navarre," and his description of a fast-paced match of Mus in Rabanal del Camino meant a Son of Seville now living in Virginia went and learned to play the card game himself, just so I could get it right.
It was a fun project. A nice break. Antxon the Dad seems very happy.
Now, after I chill a little while, I will move on to something else.
I kinda miss my own kind of writing.

Oh, I went, too, to the USA. For two months.
While I was there, a child was born. A red-headed girl called Cora. I became a grandmother.
Maybe I will write about that, too. Once I get my head around it.

   

4 comments:

Saint Mike II said...

Hola Rebekah (and Paddy) sounds like the translation was a labor of love that is well worth supporting. I will start checking Amazon to see when its available. Its a warm Sunday morning (Palm Sunday) here in Kiama Downs *NSW Sth Coast - about 100 km south of Sydney). I leave for Paris in 10 days time. The pilgrimage Mark II is about to commence. Cheers Michael Hayden

Margaret Butterworth said...

So glad to see you blogging again! I've missed you.

Julian Lord said...

Yay !! thanks for the lovely blog resurrection !!

Margaret Meredith said...

Great to read your up-beat news! Happy Easter!